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Pudd'nhead Wilson (English Library) [Paperback]

Mark Twain , Malcolm Bradbury
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Mar 2004 English Library
Determined that her baby son Tom shall not share her fate and remain in slavery, Roxy secretly exchanges him with his playmate Chambers, the son of her master. The two boys' lives in the quiet Missouri town of Dawson's Landing remain entwined even though they take very different directions. The indulged Tom (now heir to a fortune rightfully that of Chambers) goes to Yale, where he learns how to drink and gamble, while Chambers looks set to remain a subservient drudge. But then a strange sequence of events begins - one in which the much-derided lawyer, 'Pudd'nhead' Wilson, has a key part to play - and changes everything. Darkly ironic, blending farce and tragedy, Pudd'nhead Wilson is a complex and fascinating depiction of human nature under slavery.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; New Impression edition (25 Mar 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140430407
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140430400
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 12.8 x 2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 809,615 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

More About the Author

Mark Twain is the pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens (1835 - 1910). He was born and brought up in the American state of Missouri and, because of his father's death, he left school to earn his living when he was only twelve. He was a great adventurer and travelled round America as a printer; prospected for gold and set off for South America to earn his fortune. He returned to become a steam-boat pilot on the Mississippi River, close to where he had grown up. The Civil War put an end to steam-boating and Clemens briefly joined the Confederate army - although the rest of his family were Unionists! He had already tried his hand at newspaper reporting and now became a successful journalist. He started to use the alias Mark Twain during the Civil War and it was under this pen name that he became a famous travel writer. He took the name from his steam-boat days - it was the river pilots' cry to let their men know that the water was two fathoms deep.

Mark Twain was always nostalgic about his childhood and in 1876 The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published, based on his own experiences. The book was soon recognised as a work of genius and eight years later the sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was published. The great writer Ernest Hemingway claimed that 'All modern literature stems from this one book.'

Mark Twain was soon famous all over the world. He made a fortune from writing and lost it on a typesetter he invented. He then made another fortune and lost it on a bad investment. He was an impulsive, hot-tempered man but was also quite sentimental and superstitious. He was born when Halley's Comet was passing the Earth and always believed he would die when it returned - this is exactly what happened.


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Review

"Mark Twain, in his presentation of Negroes as human beings, stands head and shoulders above the other Southern writers of his times." --Langston Hughes --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835. He trained as a river-boat pilot, but turned to journalism after the Civil War, and published his first short story in 1865. He is also the author of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Malcolm Bradbury was a renowned writer and journalist.


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PUDD' NHEAD WILSON derives from Mark Twain's later, darker period, and is much the best work to come out of it. Read the first page
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Do others ever misjudge you? Did you, as a result, ever have a nickname you didn't like? Did you appreciate that experience? How did you overcome it?
What if you had been switched in the baby nursery at the hospital for another child? How might your life have been different?
These are the kinds of thoughts that will occur to you as you read Pudd'nhead Wilson.
I was attracted to the story after reading about its genesis in the new illustrated biography of Mark Twain.
Pudd'nhead Wilson is a tragic story about the consequences of two children being switched shortly after birth in the slave-holding society of the American South. Those who admire the eloquent portrayal of common humanity among African-Americans and whites in Huckleberry Finn will find more examples of this point to delight them in Pudd'nhead Wilson.
Pudd'nhead Wilson was a novel that gave Mark Twain a great many problems. The book started as a short story about Italian Siamese twins with a farcical character, as the drunken twin caused the Prohibitionist one to get into trouble with his woolly headed sweetheart. As Twain turned the story into a novel, the most important characters began to disappear in favor of new characters. Stymied, Twain realized that he had written two stories in one novel. He then excised the original of the two stories in favor of the tragedy, while leaving many satirical and ironic characteristics. Part of this switch no doubt related to Twain's growing pessimism as he grew older and to the personal tragedies and financial difficulties dogged his efforts and life.
Perhaps it is this deep plot difficulty that caused Twain to leave the novel with two rather large flaws, which vastly reduce its effectiveness. I'm sure you'll spot them, so I won't mention the problems further.
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Was this review helpful to you?
By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAME TOP 500 REVIEWER VINE VOICE
Format:Paperback
Do others ever misjudge you? Did you, as a result, ever have a nickname you didn't like? Did you appreciate that experience? How did you overcome it?
What if you had been switched in the baby nursery at the hospital for another child? How might your life have been different?
These are the kinds of thoughts that will occur to you as you read Pudd'nhead Wilson.
I was attracted to the story after reading about its genesis in the new illustrated biography of Mark Twain.
Pudd'nhead Wilson is a tragic story about the consequences of two children being switched shortly after birth in the slave-holding society of the American South. Those who admire the eloquent portrayal of common humanity among African-Americans and whites in Huckleberry Finn will find more examples of this point to delight them in Pudd'nhead Wilson.
Pudd'nhead Wilson was a novel that gave Mark Twain a great many problems. The book started as a short story about Italian Siamese twins with a farcical character, as the drunken twin caused the Prohibitionist one to get into trouble with his woolly headed sweetheart. As Twain turned the story into a novel, the most important characters began to disappear in favor of new characters. Stymied, Twain realized that he had written two stories in one novel. He then excised the original of the two stories in favor of the tragedy, while leaving many satirical and ironic characteristics. Part of this switch no doubt related to Twain's growing pessimism as he grew older and to the personal tragedies and financial difficulties dogged his efforts and life.
Perhaps it is this deep plot difficulty that caused Twain to leave the novel with two rather large flaws, which vastly reduce its effectiveness. I'm sure you'll spot them, so I won't mention the problems further.
Read more ›
Comment | 
Was this review helpful to you?
5.0 out of 5 stars Ok! 28 Jan 2013
By Oxane
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
An other book that I needed to read for my studies. Mark Twain is an excellent author and this novel is as interesting as Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Early revalation of the fingerprint world. 3 Jan 2011
Format:Paperback
This book,in my view broke the sound barrier to open up the world of Fingerprint Identification.
The book was published before the formation of The Fingerrpint Bureau at New Scotland Yard; but subsequent to the first identification in a criminal case in Argentina, so did much to awaken crime investigators to the prime piece of scientific evidence; I believe it was this case which inspired the author.
I feel it a shame that most of the subsequent efforts to promote this scientific breakthrough, was directed towards crime perpetrator detection and not, firstly toward the positive identity of every human being by what can be described as Natures Identity Card.
For deeper thought : Job. 37:7. "He sealeth up the hand of every man so that each shall know his work."
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
30 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A neglected American masterpiece 10 Oct 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
It seems like hardly anybody reads Mark Twain anymore, which is a shame, because he has so much to say about American society and human nature. "Pudd'nhead Wilson" is unquestionably one of his greatest books, maybe even his best. It's at least the equal of "Huckleberry Finn," which I had the good fortune to read with a superb high school English teacher in 1975, a year before her department banned it from the school's curriculum because of its supposedly racist portrayal of Jim.
"Pudd'nhead Wilson" manages to be a social satire, a murder mystery, a compelling commentary on race and racism, a brief against slavery, a courtroom drama, and a lifelike portrait of a particular time and place in American history, all packed into a short novel of some 170 pages. The story moves along quickly, hilarious in places and appalling in others. It's hard to understand why this easy-to-follow, entertaining and instructive novel isn't more widely read and appreciated, especially given the importance of race as a topic for thought, discussion and historical inquiry in the United States.
"Pudd'nhead Wilson" is set in a small Mississippi River town in the slave state of Missouri in 1830-1853. The critical event of the story occurs early on, when Roxy, a slave woman caring for two infant boys of exactly the same age, one her son and the other the son of one of the leading citizens of the town, secretly switches their identities. This deception is possible because her son is only 1/32 African-American and appears white (his father is in fact another leading citizen), yet by custom if not by law, the boy is a slave. The deception results in Roxy's son growing up in privileged circumstances, treating blacks with contempt, having the other boy as his personal slave, and attending Yale; yet the son, despite having all the advantages, develops no moral grounding whatsoever, and spends much of his adult life stealing, drinking and gambling. At one point, aware of his true identity but desperately needing money, he sells his own mother "down the river," into a more southerly cotton-growing region where the overseers are said to be especially cruel.
Twain gives us fewer details about the fate of the boy who in reality is all white, but we are made to understand that the boy's upbringing is typical of male slaves: he grows up with violence and degradation, illiterate, and with few skills either for making a living or existing in white society. This proves to be a cruel fate when the deception is exposed. Though he eventually comes into a substantial inheritance, he is never comfortable with or accepted by the town's respectable citizens, yet the prevailing racial code prohibits him from associating too closely with the blacks with whom he grew up.
Pudd'nhead Wilson, a lawyer, exposes the deception during a murder trial. Wilson, the town oddball, is an amateur fingerprinter, and it turns out that he kept the fingerprints he took of the boys before their switch, and is able to prove both their true identities and the identity of the killer. Wilson is the only halfway honorable character in the book; most of the rest, black and white, are exposed as dishonest, selfish and corrupt.
Mark Twain published "Pudd'nhead Wilson" in 1894, but its meaning still resonates today. A book that says so much about the ironies of appearance vs. reality, about the injustices of a rigid racial classification system, about the importance of values and upbringing rather than skin color in the formation of character, and about the realities of American slavery, deserves a more important place in our national literature.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb Puddn 28 Jun 2000
By Paul Miller - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Twain was interested in twins and the problem of identity. His pen name "Twain" is an archaic word meaning two. In this enertaining novel he starts out to write about siamese twins who are opposites in taste and temperment, a humorous farce. As he gets on with the story other themes and characters develop and he decides to pull the twins apart, making them ordinary twins, and develop the story into a comedic tragedy. Twain leaves, for whatever reason, plenty of evidence in the story that the twins were siamese. The twins speak of themselves as an only child, are always together even in bed, and are exhibited in Europe for two years when they were children. One twin when explaining why he risked himself to save his brother from murder says "If I had let the man kill him, wouldn't he have killed me, too?. I saved my own life you see." The larger part of the story fixes on Puddnhead Wilson, a local unemployed lawyer, and focuses on the pattern of a folktale of switched infants: the slave child becoming master and the master's child a slave. Roxy, an almost pure white slave, switches her baby for her masters baby so that her boy will escape slavery. Early in the story Tom Driscoll learns that he is really Valet de Chambers a slave and not the son of the leading citizen York Driscoll. Twain uses this novel to slam the stupidity and evil of slavery as well as throw some light and mockery on other foolery of society. Wilson sorts things out due to his passion for finger printing over the years. Sayings from Puddnhead Wilson's calender preface every chapter and are highly enertaining. At the conclusion of this superb novel Puddnhead Wilson comes out on top, but he is about the only one. Possibly Twain's most honest book, a masterpiece!
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Memorable 25 April 2002
By jumpy1 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Puddnhead Wilson is a very short book that can bear repeated reading. Not because it is a great literary work (it is) or because it is so important (which it is), but because in it Mark Twain exposes himself -- his nostalgia, his bitterness, his resignation, and his hope for his own life and for post-Civil War America with brutal frankness, and yet humorous approachability.
The novel may be called "Puddnhead Wilson" but the most memorable character is a highly intelligent slave woman named Roxana. Through Roxana and the rest of the townspeople living in a pre-Civil War Missouri, we find some of Mark Twain's most oft-quoted statements among biting characterizations of the American mentality.
I cannot recommend this little book enough. It has its weaknesses (so many critical essays have been written about them that it's unnecessary to discuss them here) but they are really minor and certainly do not detract from the sheer enjoyment and contemplation that it gives the reader. Not to mention that the apologetic forwards to both Puddnhead Wilson and Those Extraordinary Twins are brilliant short letters from Twain on writing.
I cannot speak about Those Extraordinary Twins because I've never been able to get into it, or read past the first chapter. It's extremely odd, being about a circus freak -- siamese twins joined at the hip -- with each side having the complete opposite philosophy and constitution than the other. That is, one side drinks alcohol and doesn't feel affected while the other side gets drunk; each side has different taste in clothing; etc.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Three Ring Circus 15 Oct 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Twain's novel Pudd'nhead Wilson can seem like an enigma at first, since it is a story about slavery written almost forty years after the end of the Civil War. Certainly race was still a pressing contemporary issue for Twain at the time: by 1893 Reconstruction had failed and race relations in the United States were a mess. Although a black man no longer had to fear being sold "down the river" as Roxy and Chambers do, extreme forms of violence were a distinct possibility. Part of the point here is that although the institutions surrounding race may have changed since 1850, the fundamental problems, even by 1893, had not. By featuring characters who are racially indeterminate--that is, characters who can "pass" or who are not immediately identifiable as black--Twain confuses the issue still further. When slavery was still legal, an individual's racial profile mattered on a concrete level: someone who is one-thirtysecondth black,like Chambers, could be owned as a slave, while someone with no known black ancestry could not. Racial identity, by the 1890's, had become a much more nebulous concept. Broader issues of identity are a compelling problem in this novel. Although this is by no means a carefully structured and polished piece of literature, Twain's multiple plots and thrown- together style do serve to inform a central set of issues, with the twins, Pudd'nhead, and Tom and Chambers all serving as variations on a theme. The coexistence of many characters and many localized plots mirrors the novel's setting. In its vacillation between the tiny town of Dawson's Landing and the metropolis of St. Louis, and in the centralized presence of the Mississippi River, with its possibilities for endless mobility, the novel offers both hope and despair: the world is too big a place for everyone to be known absolutely to their neighbors, yet one also has the ability to start over in a new place.
The idea of being able to start over is continuously interrogated in American literature. Benjamin Franklin's autobiography, which appeared almost exactly one hundred years before Pudd'nhead Wilson, sketched out the ideals of self-determination and personal identity in American culture: a man can become whatever he wants, no matter what his background, as long as he has a plan and the work ethic to realize it. Echoes of Franklin can be seen in the eccentric, scientifically-minded Pudd'nhead Wilson, whose writings mirror Franklin's and whose careful analysis and re-categorization of the world around him is also reminiscent of the American icon. Pudd'nhead's self-realizations, though, are dark and socially unsuccessful. Twain's characters live in an America where social mores are largely fixed and one's success depends not on determination but on fitting into a pre-existing public space.
Twain, like Franklin, was a celebrated public figure, immediately recognizable as a collection of carefully developed mannerisms and trademark items. Like Judge Driscoll in this novel, Twain somehow found himself high placed enough in society so as not to be bound by its rules. In Pudd'nhead Wilson, though, Twain looks at those who avoid constraints of reputation and public opinion by being so far beneath society as to be almost irrelevant. He also looks at those who, like the twins, get caught in the middle, in a mire of shifting opinions and speculations. The "plot" of this novel, if it can be said to have one, is a detective story, in which a series of identities--the judge's murderer, "Tom," "Chambers"--must be sorted out. This structure highlights the problem of identity and one's ability to determine one's own identity. The solution to the set of mysteries, though, is an incomplete and bleak one, in which determinations about identities have been made but the assigned identities do not correspond to viable positions in society. The seemingly objective scientific methods espoused by Pudd'nhead may have provided more "truthful" answers than public opinion, but they have not helped to better society. In the rapidly changing American culture of the 1890s, where race, celebrity, and publicity were confounding deeply ingrained cultural notions of self-determination, the depopulated ending of Pudd'nhead Wilson is a pessimistic assessment of one's ability to control one's identity. Twain's novel moves us from Franklin's comic world of possibility to a place where self- determination is Twain, like Franklin, was a celebrated public figure, immediately recognizable as a collection of carefully developed mannerisms and trademark items. Like Judge Driscoll in this novel, Twain somehow found himself high placed enough in society so as not to be bound by its rules. In Pudd'nhead Wilson, though, Twain looks at those who avoid constraints of reputation and public opinion by being so far beneath society as to be almost irrelevant. He also looks at those who,
like the twins, get caught in the middle, in a mire of shifting opinions and speculations. The "plot" of this novel, if it can be said to have one, is a detective story, in which a series of identities--the judge's murderer, "Tom," "Chambers"--must be sorted out. This structure highlights the problem of identity and one's ability to determine one's own identity. The solution to the set of mysteries, though, is an incomplete and bleak one, in which determinations about
identities have been made but the assigned identities do not correspond to viable positions in society. The seemingly objective scientific methods espoused by Pudd'nhead may have provided more "truthful" answers than public opinion, but they have not helped to better society. In the rapidly changing American culture of the 1890s, where race, celebrity, and publicity were confounding deeply ingrained cultural notions of self-determination, the depopulated ending of Pudd'nhead Wilson is a pessimistic assessment of one's ability to control one's identity. Twain's novel moves us from Franklin's comic world of possibility to a place where self- determination is accompanied by tragic overtones, a place reminiscent of the world of another, later American novel about a self-made man that does not end well: Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby.
5.0 out of 5 stars SUMMER READING FOR THE KIDO 2 Aug 2013
By Jodene Anderson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
i THOUGHT IT WAS A PRETTY GOOD READ. i HOPE SHE FEELS THE SAME!!!
THIS IS REQUIRED READING FOR AP LIT JUNIOR HIGH.
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